Belfast Telegraph

Gerry Adams snubbed by US Government officials on St Patrick's Day visit to Washington

By Liam Clarke

Officials at the US State Department initially refused to meet Gerry Adams after he jetted into America at the weekend, as a sign of disapproval over Sinn Fein's blocking of the Welfare Reform deal, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

In a dramatic slap-down for the Sinn Fein leader, US officials kept him at arm's length while crisis talks continued at home to solve the welfare stand-off.

The issue caused much embarrassment and confusion for Sinn Fein, which places much importance on the annual St Patrick's Day visit to Washington DC.

The party initially claimed yesterday that no meeting between the State Department and Mr Adams had ever been confirmed.

However, an official from the State Department did meet yesterday with UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and his SDLP counterpart Alasdair McDonnell.

Gerry Adams later went on the offensive and accused the US government of behaving bizarrely.

A top-level political source told the Belfast Telegraph that the US administration was using its influence in order to increase pressure on Sinn Fein and the DUP to conclude a deal that will save the Assembly.

And after indications that progress was possible at Stormont on resolving the welfare reform impasse, a rearranged meeting was organised for today. A Sinn Fein spokesman was unable to say who the meeting would be with or where it would happen.

The first sign that Barack Obama's administration believed Sinn Fein was willing to move the negotiations forward came in a tweet from Martin McGuinness.

The deputy First Minister wrote: "Pleased Gerry Adams will be meeting with the US State Department later."

Shortly afterwards, Mr Adams also took to Twitter, where he wrote: "Hokey Pokey Diplomacy? US State Department?"

The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, who has been highly critical of Mr Adams recently, will meet President Obama in the Oval Office of the White House later today.

Mr Adams will attend a large St Patrick's Day reception in the White House, where former Stormont talks chairman Richard Haass and Senator Gary Hart, the US special envoy, will be guests of honour - but there is no face-to-face meeting with the President.

The hope had been that a deal would be unveiled in the White House today, allowing President Obama to project himself as a peacemaker at a time of increasing international tension.

Peter Robinson and Mr McGuinness have stayed away from Washington to work on the welfare deal. This followed a phone call from Mr Hart to tell them that there might be fewer invitations unless there was progress on the Stormont House Agreement.

Mr Robinson said yesterday the US administration had told him the meeting with President Obama could be rescheduled when and if they cracked the problem.

The White House reception will round off a controversial St Patrick's Day trip for the Sinn Fein leader, whose access to the US administration during the peace process has rarely been as troublesome.

Earlier, Mr Adams had shown his displeasure at the initial snub by the US State Department decision in a terse statement.

"The State Department's handling of the issue of a meeting with me is bizarre," he said, despite his party saying none had been planned.

"It serves no purpose other than to distract attention from the main issue. That is the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement. That is Sinn Fein's main focus."

The diplomatic intrigue follows Sinn Fein's withdrawal of support for welfare legislation as part of the Stormont House Agreement. Talks are continuing and the five Executive party leaders will meet Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers later in the week. She said: "Everyone needs to continue to work to resolve this and I hope that's the message that Sinn Fein and others hear this week in Washington, because that is the way we will once again stave off disaster and keep moving forward to a more stable, secure and united future for Northern Ireland."

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